Let’s give gloves a hand

Feb. 23, 2023

The production of superior gloves within the medical field continues to expand and evolve.

As we enter in to 2023, gloves have become a booming, billion-dollar industry that has expanded well beyond healthcare. The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly exacerbated the demand for gloves, and this is on top of a demand that has been increasing exponentially over the last three decades, as overall protection from HAIs and bloodborne pathogens has made glove usage mandatory across many realms.

Let’s get things covered

Stephen M. Kovach is the Educator Emeritus at Healthmark Industry, a well-known company that provides autoclave gloves, decontam gloves, lined sleeve gloves, silicone heat gloves, and ultra-long decontam gloves, just to name a few.

Well, according to Kovach, it wasn’t all that long ago where glove usage, particularly that concerning a wide range of advanced, protective gloves, was far from common.

“When I think back 5 to 15 years ago about glove practice, I have to stop and think, what was the selection of gloves for use in the decontamination area? My memory is that almost everyone used simple exam gloves to the cuff line (wrist area) or the simple yellow-latex gloves purchased from the dollar store, which provided a little more protection but water still leaked in over the cuff.”

Thankfully, staff members soon came to realize that certain types of simpler gloves were simply not getting the job done.

Kovach continued, ”What has changed is input from the staff raising awareness that those types of gloves do not provide protection past the cuff line. Healthmark was one of the first companies supporting the longer impervious sleeve glove to prove protection all the way up to the elbow area.

Another reason for improvement is that the industry standards’ wording has evolved. For example, in AAMI ST91, it is stated that processing personnel should use a style of glove that prevents contact with contaminated water. Thus, exam gloves should not be used for decontamination. General-purpose utility gloves fitted at the wrist or above should utilized instead. Also, the recent “Splash” study by the Ofstead group has shown the importance of proper glove selection due to the high-risk of exposure to aerosols and moisture generated during decontamination processes.

It is each facility’s responsibility to provide staff with the proper PPE—gloves with protection up to the elbow is part of that responsibility.”

Looking back, looking forward

Supply and demand issues with vital materials such as gloves and PPE are not occurrences that suddenly came over the horizon with the COVID-19 pandemic; in fact, nothing could be further from the truth. If we turn back the clock not even 40 years, widespread coverage of shortages in protective wear for healthcare workers was as newsworthy as it is today.

The AIDS pandemic, which took off in the 1980’s, made it commonplace for hospitals and facilities around the country to encounter shortages of the latex rubber gloves that were regularly used to protect health workers from potential exposure to HIV.

Well, as we all know, history tends to repeat itself, as here we are in 2023 trying to emerge from another health crisis that has disrupted production, supplies, and distribution of healthcare supplies on a global scale.

However, the overarching goal remains the same: we must do everything we can to ensure our healthcare workers and patients are properly protected. One company that has been fighting this battle has been Medicom, which was founded in 1988 in response to the urgent need of medical gloves for healthcare professionals during the global HIV crisis. Since then, the company has continued to drive innovation in glove production, material, and design features such as chemical resistance and the reduction of skin sensitization.

“At Medicom, we believe that true innovation must include vertical integration and supply chain resiliency. For this reason, we have embarked on different initiatives to secure the supply of products made in compliance with the highest labor and environmental standards, to healthcare systems. We believe that the future is in end-to-end sustainable practices and products with the lowest environmental impact,” says Guillaume Laverdure, CEO, Medicom Group.

American Ingenuity

Exam gloves remain an industry wherein production and manufacturing largely takes place overseas; in fact, according to the U.S. International Trade Commission, the country of Malaysia accounted for approximately 60 percent of the world’s nitrile gloves, as well as 75 percent by quantity of non-hard rubber medical gloves that were imported into the U.S. in 2020.

Although domestic production has been increasing, Asia continues to have a stronghold on the glove market, not only regarding Malaysia’s huge presence, but also a recent surge from China, who has dramatically increased its PPE and glove production since the pandemic began.

United Safety Technology (UST) is slated to be one of the newest competitors in the domestic manufacturing of medical-grade nitrile exam gloves. Aided by a Department of Defense contract to significantly enhance glove production capabilities, the company is revitalizing a former Bethlehem Steel facility in the greater Baltimore area to serve as its primary plant. When asked about their focus on the community, sustainability and innovation, Will Benton, UST’s Chief Commercial Officer, shared the following point of view:

“Most conversations around innovation jump straight to “the product” and what the next-generation benefits will be. While that is understandable, we believe we must take a more holistic view of innovation, especially as we – and other groups – are working to bring critical, medical product manufacturing back to the U.S. At UST, our team is hyper-focused on driving innovation and improvement on multiple levels – and this goes beyond just our product attributes. We’re proud of the innovative approach we’re taking with our expansive building reclamation and material reuse efforts. Innovation is also the foundation for our proprietary production design and integrated automation we’re using to create a best-in-class medical-grade glove produced here in the U.S. within a progressive worker-friendly environment.

Innovation is woven into the framework of our business model, from how we create resilience through our raw material sourcing all the way to the recycled packaging materials we select. Most importantly, innovation should be an enabler for growth and improvement within the community we serve. Supporting domestic manufacturing is now considered an innovative approach. What’s old is new again.”

Brotherly glove

Another new American company that commenced operations in 2020 is Isikel, which is located on the outskirts of Houston, Texas, where they focus on providing top of the line PPE, including gloves. The company is positioning itself to be a key supplier to medical and industrial facilities throughout Texas and the surrounding states.

According to Vice President Bill Williams, “Isikel Manufacturing is uniquely skilled in the development of nitrile gloves. We follow a combination of ISO 9001:2015 Product Realization practices and Stage Gate processes to ensure new products developed are profitable, meet our customers' needs, and are within our process capabilities.”

The company was born on a commitment to boost domestic production of products that are (and continue to be) most readily available via foreign markets. Isikel’s nitrile glove factory has multiple dip lines and the capability to produce nearly 500 million nitrile gloves annually. At present, the Isikel team is gearing up to begin operation of our new multi dip machine glove and saline facility in early 2024.

“Isikel protects the nature of our innovations but works closely with our suppliers to stay current on the latest raw material and technological developments. We use the voice of our customers to drive our strategic new product road map. Our Chemists and engineers use this data to develop a pipeline of new products to support our customers' current and future market growth,” added Williams. “Our team is proud of our ability to creatively integrate technologies from multiple industries to produce world class nitrile gloves. This provides us with a decisive advantage over foreign and domestic competitors which is critical in today's economic climate.”

Around the world

One company with an international stamp on its products is Molnlycke, who operates sites in over 40 countries across the globe. The Swedish company recently opened a brand new factory in Malaysia, which will enable the company to greatly increase their production capacity, while at the same time making great strides in attempts to reduce their carbon footprint.

“In September 2022, Mölnlycke announced the inauguration of a new surgical glove factory in Kulim, Malaysia,” said Chris Puricelli, VP Commercial, Americas. “The new facility is a major milestone in Mölnlycke’s sustainability roadmap, ‘WeCare,’ and the company is investing in solutions that will lower its CO2 emissions in this plant.  In the long term, Mölnlycke is turning its commitment to net zero greenhouse (GHG) emissions by 2050 into reality by running its operations in a less resource intensive way.”

Monolycke’s Biogel product line comprises an expansive line of surgical gloves that offers users advanced protection and comfort, detecting and withstanding perforations.

Puricelli continued, “We know our Biogel surgical gloves protect clinical staff and enable them to work at their best.  To support our customers, Mölnlycke is pursuing sustainable growth and investment to meet future demand for supply and sustainability.

With sustainability as a key aspect of the company’s strategy, Mölnlycke is setting out to build a sustainable healthcare manufacturing ecosystem that will effectively meet the industry’s demand for high-quality surgical gloves, with minimal environment impact.”

Staying a glove ahead

Today, PPE waste is climbing at an alarming rate. For example, when clinicians dispense exam gloves, they often pull more gloves than they need; the excess gloves then fall on the floor or are thrown in the garbage. As a way to help combat this phenomenon, Medline has developed its SmartBoX Technology, a packaging enhancement that automatically propels gloves toward the box opening, helping clinicians dispense the appropriate number of gloves with each pull, thereby reducing waste significantly.

Moreover, to support caregiver readiness and efficiency, Medline has developed its Glide-On powder-free vinyl exam glove. The Glide-On coating allows for easier donning and less tearing, even with damp hands. This product is making it easier for staff, already faced with time and resource constraints, to follow hand hygiene protocols while also helping reduce waste.

According to Paul Lishnevsky, Group President, Medline Industries, LP,”Healthcare providers have always looked for resilient, well-diversified supply chains, and following the pandemic, that has never been truer. It is critical that healthcare institutions have the products they need at the time they need them to provide seamless, quality patient care. Medline has continued to take steps to help healthcare run better despite continued industry-wide global supply chain challenges.

At present, Medline is the only surgical glove manufacturer to produce its own synthetic polyisoprene raw material right here in the US, which further illustrates the company’s commitment to providing resiliency amid supply chain problems and protect their customers in the face of future pandemics.”

If the glove fits….

Across the past five decades, there have certainly been few companies that can lay claim to such a vast range of industry leading gloves as Cardinal Health. The company’s extensive offering of glove products, whether of the surgical, exam, or cleanroom variety, continue to set standards for excellence not only in America, but around the world.

Even in light of the tough economic times and supply chain burdens, Cardinal Health has made recent investments in excess of $185M in manufacturing expansion, supply chain inventory, and warehouse space, resulting in an overall doubling of their current manufacturing capacity.

Candace Underhill, Vice President, US Product Marketing, highlighted some of Cardinal Health’s pillars to success, which serve as a testament to the company’s continual commitment to remaining at the forefront of the industry:

·       Driving the shift to non-latex materials to decrease occurrence of latex allergies; being one of the first to provide a comfortable, non-latex glove made of polyisoprene material

·        Allowing for comfort and natural movement in the fingers, thumb, and palms with our proprietary hand mold with an independent thumb design

·        Optimizing space in the storeroom with our specifically designed packaging

·        Reducing cuff roll down at the gown interface with a unique interlocking, beaded cuff design

·        Promoting skin health by moisturizing and soothing the hands with emollient-coated Neu-thera gloves

·        Indicating breaches with our distinct blue color double gloving indicator system

·        Designing gloves for specific specialties, such as Protexis PI Ortho and Orthopedic, and targeted texture surfaces that allow for enhanced grip, such as Protexis PI Textured

"The market today is trending toward surgical glove solutions that address the continuum of usage and help make the lives of healthcare providers easier so that they can focus on what matters most – caring for their patients," added Underhill.

How about a hand for radiation protection

Although not receiving the same attention as gloves used for surgery or examination, there is an increased need in the medical industry for specialized gloves that protect from radiation.

Samantha Chmura, OTR/L, is the Product Manager for AliMed, a Massachusetts-based company that offers a wide range of gloves, including a series that is dedicated to radiation protection.

“As higher radiation-dose fluoroscopic procedures become the norm today for certain exams and guided surgeries, clinicians are paying greater attention to ways they can mitigate their exposure risk, especially when it comes to more vulnerable and often overlooked areas such as the hands. Historically, compliance rates for wearing radiation attenuation gloves have been lower than other protective gear, often due to decreased tactile sensitivity or dexterity, which some clinicians feel may adversely affect performance.

So, to counteract compliance issues, today's gloves need to perform equally as well as they protect. With that need in mind, AliMed has worked to bring our AliGuard glove to market—a more advanced glove that marries high attenuation with enhanced tactile sensitivity. Its thinner, more finely textured construction allows surgeons and radiologists to really grip and feel their instruments without compromising dexterity or the health of their most valuable tool, their hands.”